Transportation - Get In
Vancouver International Airport
Vancouver International Airport (IATA: YVR) is located immediately south of the city of Vancouver. It is the second busiest airport in Canada, and serves as the hub airport for Western Canada with frequent flights to other points in British Columbia, major cities across Canada and the U.S., Asia and several to Europe. The majority of Canadian flights are with Star Alliance member Air Canada and WestJet. U.S. destinations are served by United Airlines, Alaska Airways, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific (JFK) and WestJet. International flights are serviced by Air Canada, KLM, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, and Air New Zealand to name a few.
YVR's three terminals are: Domestic for jet flights within Canada, International for flights outside of Canada and South, which is the base for prop, small jet, and seaplane service to 'local' communities in B.C. and Yukon. The domestic and international terminals are connected and you can easily walk back and forth between them. The South Terminal is not attached and requires separate transportation to get to it.
The International Terminal has two boarding areas -- Transborder and International. The transborder area (Gate E) services all U.S. bound flights and has U.S. customs on site. Travellers leaving Canada to fly into the U.S. must clear customs before you board the plane, so give yourself some extra time to check-in when you leave Vancouver for U.S. destinations. [Note: In the summer season when the Alaska cruises are operating to Vancouver, the afternoon flights are filled with Alaskan cruisers disembarking at Vancouver; give yourself even more extra time to get through the long customs line.][Note 2: The exceptions are Cathay Pacific to New York City and Philippine Air to Las Vegas; due to these being continuing legs of international flights, they are serviced from the international area and US Customs clearance happens on arrival.] The remainder of the international terminal (Gate D) has all other customs and immigration services, and has a sophisticated layout complete with native scapes of the B.C. terrain and sights. Construction is currently taking place to expand the international terminal and refurbishing and expanding the domestic terminal.
There is a range of restaurants, services and shops if you are hungry or want to kill some time before or after a flight. The airport has a policy of “street pricing”, obliging retailers and restaurants to sell at the same prices in the airport as in the city to avoid customer gouging. Typical fast-food restaurants are located before the security check-ins in the departure areas. For a nice meal, a Milestone's restaurant is located in the domestic terminal just outside the security check-in. In the international terminal, the upscale Fairmont Hotel has a nice view and some reasonably priced choices on their menu. Duty-free purchases may be made both before and after you clear customs in the airport, up to your personal exemption limit. ABM machines are scattered throughout the terminals. Currency exchange counters are located on both sides of security in the international terminal.
There are a number of ways to get into town from the airport. Prices and directions below are for getting into downtown Vancouver.
- SkyTrain - The Canada Line provides the only direct rapid transit public service downtown, in 25 minutes. The fare from YVR to Vancouver is currently $9.00, which includes the two-zone base fare of $4.00 plus a $5 surcharge (the "YVR AddFare") incurred on departures from the airport. The $5 surcharge only applies on tripsstarting at the airport, not on trips going to the airport. It does not apply to passes loaded on a Compass Card, including DayPasses and monthly transit passes.
- Taxi - Taxis line up just outside the baggage claim areas. Fares for a taxi ride intoVancouver or Richmond are fixed and vary depending on which part of the city (or "zone") you are going to. For example, a fare to Kitsilano, Granville Island, Yaletown and most downtown hotels will cost $31. Canada Place, Waterfront Station and the waterfront hotels will cost $35. Fares to UBC and Point Grey are $34. The YVR Taxis page has more details about the zones and rates, including a map. If your destination is outside of Vancouver or Richmond, the fare will be metered. The fixed rate fares only apply to rides leaving the airport; all trips to the airport are metered. There is a $5 fee on top of the fixed rate if you want to stop along the way. All taxis that serve the airport are required to accept credit cards. The typical travel time from the airport to downtown is about 20-30 minutes.
- Limousines - Limojet Gold offers comfortable sedan and limousine options for getting into town. Rides into the city centre cost $70-75 depending on where you are going and whether you are in a sedan or limo.
- AAA Vancouver Limousine Service offers comfortable stretch limousine and Stretch SUV Limos options for getting into town.
Floatplane and heliport
There are floatplane facilities located both in the Coal Harbour area of downtown Vancouver (IATA: CXH) and at Vancouver International's South Terminal. Floatplanes operated by Harbour Air, Salt Spring Air, West Coast Air and Seair fly frequently from downtown Vancouver and/or YVR to Victoria's Inner Harbour, Vancouver Island, the scenic Southern Gulf Islands and other local destinations. Some float plane operators also offer spectacular tours of the central city and nearby attractions starting at about $80-100 per person... a great way to see a panoramic view of downtown. A quick search of Google will bring up websites for most of these float plane operators.
Finally, Helijet operates helicopter service from the downtown heliport next to Waterfront Station, providing quick and convenient connections to Victoria and YVR.
Abbotsford International Airport
Abbotsford International Airport (IATA: YXX), located about 60 km (37 mi) east of Vancouver in Abbotsford, is Vancouver's alternate airport. It handles mostly domestic flights and, with an arranged ride, you can be in and out of this airport in under 10 min (with no checked in baggage).
The best way to reach Vancouver from Abbotsford Airport is by car: take the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) west. The drive will take 45–90 minutes, depending on traffic. There is no public transit link between this airport and Vancouver, so if you don't have access to a car, it is highly recommended that you fly into YVR instead. Car rentals are available at the airport.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Flying in and out of Seattle, particularly for US destinations, and then using the bus, train, or car rental for travel to and from Vancouver city can be a (dramatically, and frustratingly) less expensive option than buying a direct flight from YVR or YXX. A U.S. visa may be required and could take some time to procure. For budget travellers, you may wish to consider checking flights to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The bus or train ride takes about 4h+ one way and driving time is approximately 2.5-3h. Allow extra time to clear customs at the border.
Bellingham International Airport (IATA: BLI) is only an hour from Vancouver (plus border time), and serves mainly as a launching point for budget-minded Canadian travellers vacationing in the U.S.: excellent service from Hawaii and Las Vegas, but few other useful connections. Shuttle buses to Vancouver run as low as $39 round trip.
Taking the train to Vancouver is unlikely to be the cheapest option, but it is a scenic one. Rail options include:
- VIA Rail has the Canadian which runs from Toronto to Vancouver with three weekly departures.
- The Rocky Mountaineer operates routes between Vancouver and Banff, Calgary and Jasper three times a week from April to October.
- Amtrak runs a service between Seattle and Vancouver called Amtrak Cascades. Trains depart Seattle daily at 7:40AM and 6:40PM, arriving in Vancouver at 11:35AM and 10:45PM respectively. The return trips leave Vancouver at 6:40AM and 5:45PM.
All trains arrive at Pacific Central Station, located at 1150 Station Street (east of downtown off Main St). From there, it is a short taxi ride into the central business area, or you can pick up the SkyTrain at the Main St/Science World station two blocks away.
If you have the time and money, travelling to Vancouver by train can be an excellent way to see the Canadian Rockies. This is discussed further at the Rocky Mountaineer.
Vancouver is well served by bus service. There are a number of different bus lines providing service to various cities near and far. Here are a couple of examples:
- Greyhound (USA) connects Vancouver to the USA via Seattle.
- Greyhound Canada connects Vancouver with many cities such as Calgary and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in Canada.
- Quick Coach connects Vancouver with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington.
- BoltBus connects Vancouver with Bellingham, Seattle and Portland.
- Pacific Coach Lines connects Vancouver with Victoria. Scheduled service follows the BC Ferry service from Tsawwassen to Victoria (Swartz Bay). This is hourly in the summer months, and every two hours in the off-season.
- Perimeter Transportation connects Vancouver with Whistler and Squamish.
- Cantrail connects Vancouver with Seattle's King Street station. Service also stops in Richmond and Surrey before crossing the border.
The main highway into Vancouver from the east is Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway). This road skirts the eastern edge of Vancouver, so if you want to get into the city, you will need to exit off it at Grandview Highway, 1st Avenue or Hastings Street.
From the U.S./Canada border south of the city, Highway 99, which links up with U.S.Interstate 5, runs north to Vancouver. Note that the freeway ends after the Oak Street Bridge, turning into Oak Street heading north. Drivers with a downtown destination will need to get onto Granville Street (parallel to Oak St to the west), or Cambie Street (parallel to the east), in order to get on the Granville Street or Cambie Street bridges which cross False Creek into the downtown peninsula.
If you are coming from the North Shore or other points further north, the only way into Vancouver is by bridge. Your options are the Lions Gate Bridge (Hwy 99) which brings you into Stanley Park and Vancouver's West End or the Second Narrows Bridge/Ironworkers Memorial Bridge (Hwy 1) which brings you into the neighbourhoods of East Van.
There are two ferry terminals serviced by BC Ferries in the area, although neither is within the city of Vancouver itself.
- The Tsawwassen terminal in Delta has routes to Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island and to the Southern Gulf Islands.
- The Horseshoe Bay terminal in the West Vancouver services Nanaimo, Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast.
Both terminals are far enough from the city core that you will need to travel by car, taxi or bus to get into town from them (and vice-versa). In terms of bus transportation, the various coach services are recommended over public transit. Public buses to and from the ferry terminals are fairly easy and direct. From Vancouver downtown, you take Canada Line (Skytrain) from downtown to Brighouse Station. From Brighouse Station, take the 620 bus which takes you directly to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.
By cruise ship
Port Metro Vancouver is the home port for the popular Vancouver-Alaska cruise. From May-Sep, more than 3/4 million visitors pass through the two cruise ship terminals in Port Metro Vancouver. Check with your cruise line as to which terminal your ship is using, especially if you are embarking at Vancouver.
- Canada Place Terminal, located on the waterfront and a few minutes' walk to the heart of downtown Vancouver or Waterfront Station, is the primary cruise ship terminal. Canada Place was built originally for Expo86 and is recognized by its dramatic rooftop that looks like five white sails. A full range of ground transportation, excellent hotels, shopping, dining, entertainment, and attractions is available at Canada Place.
- Ballantyne Pier Terminal, located on the waterfront 2 km east of Canada Place, is the secondary cruise ship terminal and accessible by a 15-min taxi ($12) to/from downtown or by a shuttle provided by some of the downtown hotels or some of the cruise lines. Travellers to Ballantyne have access to Ballantyne Cruise Terminal via Clark Drive or McGill St Overpass only. There is no access to travellers via Victoria Dr and Heatley Ave. There is no public transportation and no rental car kiosks at Ballantyne.
US passport holders may be able to participate in "Onboard Check-in” and “US Direct" to streamline processing at the cruise ship and the airport. US Direct allows passengers arriving at Vancouver Airport (YVR) to transfer directly to a same-day-departing cruise ship by participating in expedited immigration and customs clearance process.Onboard Check-in allows passengers arriving on a cruise ship and flying out of YVR on the same day to transfer directly to YVR by participating in an expedited immigration and customs clearance process.
These programs do not apply to passengers who are planning a pre- or post-cruise stay in Vancouver. Not all cruise lines participate, so check with your cruise line to see if you can take advantage of the Onboard Check-in/US Direct program.
Transportation - Get Around
Vancouver is one of the few major cities in North America without a freeway leading directly into the downtown core (freeway proposals in the 1960s and 1970s were defeated by community opposition). As a result, development has taken a different course than in most other major North American cities resulting in a relatively high use of transit and cycling, a dense, walkable core and a development model that is studied and emulated elsewhere.
By Public transit
Metro Vancouver’s public transit is an integrated system of buses, rapid transit (SkyTrain & Canada Line) and ferries (SeaBus) covering the city of Vancouver and all of the municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver. It stretches as far north as Lions Bay, south to the U.S. border and east to Langley and Maple Ridge. It can be very useful for getting around the city of Vancouver and the inner suburbs, and, despite some high profile SkyTrain breakdowns, it is generally efficient.
Translink is the regional transportation authority and their website and customer information line (+1 604-953-3333) both offer trip planning and information about fares, where to buy tickets and the refund policy. A regional transportation map is widely available at convenience stores and on Translink’s website.
Fares and zones
Translink breaks Metro Vancouver into three fare zones; your fare depends on the number of zones you travel in. The standard adult fare is $2.75 for all bus trips across Metro Vancouver and SkyTrain travel within the City of Vancouver (Zone 1). It also covers all travel system-wide at off-peak times: weekends, holidays, and weekday evenings after 6:30pm. Travel out of Vancouver on the SkyTrain or SeaBus crosses fare zone boundaries and costs $4 to $5.50 on weekdays before 6:30pm.
After paying fare, you can transfer or re-board for free for 90 minutes. Compass Card and Compass Ticket users have no restrictions on transferring between modes of transit. Bus riders paying cash fare can only transfer to other buses.
|Number of Zones||What it covers||Adult Fare||Concession Fare|
|1 Zone||Travel within the city of Vancouver||$2.75||$1.75|
|2 Zones||Travel between Vancouver and North Vancouver,West Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and Richmond||$4.00||$2.75|
|3 Zones||Travel between Vancouver and all other destinations||$5.50||$3.75|
Fares paid by Compass Card (see next section) are discounted and cost between $2.10 and $4.20 for an adult fare (if you're familiar with Vancouver's pre-Compass system, the discount is equal to the rate given on the old FareSaver tickets).
Concession fares are available for children aged 5-13, Vancouver high school students and seniors (65+). If you're a student, you must carry a TransLink GoCard to receive the reduced concession fare. Children age 4 or younger are free.
Paying for your fare: Compass
Compass is the electronic fare system for buses, SkyTrain, SeaBus and the West Coast Express that replaced the old paper tickets and honour system in late 2015. Buses still accept cash when you board, but fare gates at SkyTrain and SeaBus station only accept Compass. There are two Compass choices:
- Compass Ticket — A white ticket that is good for one trip. The DayPass — unlimited travel on bus, SkyTrain and SeaBus across all zones for one day — can also be purchased as a Compass Ticket; and
- Compass Card — A reusable smart card that can store value, load passes and offers discounted fares. Blue cards are for adult fares, orange cards are for concession fares. See the infobox for more information.
Compass Tickets and Adult Compass Cards can be purchased from the Compass Vending Machines in SkyTrain and SeaBus stations and select London Drugs locations. All types of Cards and Tickets may be purchased over the counter at some 7-11, Safeway, London Drugs and Shoppers Drug Mart locations, as well as the Compass Customer Service Centre at Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain station. Translink's website has a handy map showing the locations of Compass retailers and Compass Vending Machines. The vending machines accept cash, debt card and credit card.
The initial purchase of a Compass Card requires a $6 deposit. The deposit is refundable if you return your Compass Card to or mail a Refund Request form to the Compass Customer Service Centre.
To use your Compass Ticket or Card, tap in at the start of every trip on any vehicle, and tap out every time you exit through a fare gate. Bus riders do not tap out. Doing this lets the system calculate the right fare.
If you're travelling in a group, Compass Tickets and Cards cannot be shared between group members. Each person will need their own ticket or card to tap in and out of the fare gates.
Passes and Stored Value
If you are going to make heavy use of the transit system, passes can be loaded onto a Compass Card.
- A DayPass is a money-saving option for travellers who will use public transit heavily for one day. For $9.75 (or $7.50 concession), it offers unlimited travel across Metro Vancouver on bus, SkyTrain and SeaBus until the end of the service day, late at night.
- Monthly passes can save you money if you will be using transit almost daily for a month. They cost between $91 and $170 (or $52 concession) depending on the number of zones.
The bus service covers the widest area and travels along most major streets in the city. A few express bus lines called B Lines crisscross the city. When boarding, passengers must either tap in with their Compass Card or Compass Ticket, buy a ticket with cash (exact change required, coins only), or present a ticket to the driver.
Cash fare on any bus to anywhere at any time is a flat $2.75. Because of this, Compass Card users only tap in when boarding the bus, and never tap out when stepping off, unlike with all other modes of transit.
Every bus stop in Metro Vancouver has a unique five-digit bus stop number (the yellow number at the top of the bus stop sign). Send an SMS with that stop number to 33333 to get the next six scheduled bus arrival times. Standard text messaging rates apply.
The SkyTrain is a mostly elevated, fully automated rapid transit system connecting downtown Vancouver with some of its suburbs to the south and east.
- The Expo Line runs through Burnaby and New Westminster to King George Station in Surrey.
- The Millennium Line follows the Expo Line to New Westminster, and then loops back through Burnaby into Vancouver again, ending at VCC-Clark.
- The Canada Line goes south to Richmond and Vancouver Airport.
Key SkyTrain stations include:
- Commercial-Broadway - accesses restaurants and shopping on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver
- Burrard and Granville - the most central stations in the central business district
- Waterfront - meeting point for all SkyTrain lines, the SeaBus, numerous commuter and rapid bus routes, and the commuter rail West Coast Express. It also accesses Gastown and is right next to the Canada Place Convention Centre/Cruise Ship Terminal facilities.
The fare on SkyTrain depends on how many zones you travel through and what time you're travelling. The City of Vancouver is Zone 1. Close-in suburbs like Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, and North Vancouver are Zone 2. Farther-out suburbs south of the Fraser River or east of Burnaby are Zone 3. At peak times, Compass Card users pay between $2.10 and $4.20, and riders paying cash fare pay $2.75 to $5.50. At off-peak times, passengers pay one-zone fare.
Compass Card users tap in and out each time they pass through the fare gates. If you forget to tap in or out, you will be charged the maximum fare. People choosing not to use Compass Cards can buy single-use Compass Tickets instead.
The SeaBus is a passenger ferry that connects Waterfront Station downtown to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. It generally runs every 15 minutes except in the evening and on Sundays.
During peak times, two-zone fare is required. That is $3.15 for passengers with Compass Cards and $4 for those with Compass Tickets. At off-peak times, passengers pay one-zone fare.
By ferry across False Creek
A quick trip across on a cute little-boat-that-could ferry can be the most fun, traffic-free, and convenient way to get between various points on False Creek:
- Maritime Museum in Vanier Park on the south shore,
- Aquatic Centre at Sunset Beach on the north shore,
- Hornby St on the north shore,
- Granville Island and its famous Public Market on the south shore,
- Yaletown/Davie St. on the north shore,
- Stamp's Landing/Monk's and Spyglass Place on the south shore,
- Plaza of Nations and Edgewater Casino on the north shore, and
- Science World, the geodesic dome at the east end of False Creek.
Service is offered by False Creek Ferries with little blue boats and by Aquabus with little rainbow boats. The two ferries run slightly different routes, and their docks on Granville Island are on either side of the Public Market. Current prices for adults start at $3.25 for short routes to $6.50 for long routes.
Vancouver's road network is generally a grid system with a "Street" running north-south and an "Avenue" running east-west. Arterial roads follow the grid fairly well (although not perfectly), but side streets frequently disappear for blocks at a time and then reappear. Most of the "Avenues" are numbered and they always use East or West to designate whether it is on the East side or the West side of Ontario Street. Some of the major avenues use names rather than numbers (Broadway would be 9th Ave, King Edward Ave would be 25th Ave).
Downtown Vancouver has its own grid system and doesn't follow the street/avenue format of the rest of the city. It is also surrounded by water on three sides, so most of the ways in and out require you to cross a bridge. This can cause traffic congestion, particularly at peak times (morning and evening commutes, sunny weekend afternoons, major sporting events), so factor that into any driving plans, or avoid if possible.
One of the best ways to avoid traffic congestion is to listen to traffic reports on AM730. This station reports only about traffic and can be quick to report any accidents and congestion, as well as B.C. ferry reports, bridge and tunnel updates, border wait times, and other information pertaining to getting around the city and its many suburbs. It also posts frequent weather updates and local news.
A unique feature of Vancouver and the rest of British Columbia is intersections with flashing green traffic signals. These do not indicate an advance left turn as it would in many other parts of North America. Instead, a flashing green light indicates a traffic signal that can be activated only by a pedestrian or a cyclist on the side street, but not by a motor vehicle. When the signal turns red, traffic stops as at any traffic signal. Any side street traffic must obey the stop sign on the side street and must yield to any pedestrians crossing the side street, even if traffic is stopped on the main street.
Parking downtown generally costs $1-2.50/hour or $12-20/day. Commercial areas will typically have meter parking on the street, with meters accepting Canadian and American change only (American coins accepted at par value). Residential streets may allow free parking, but some will require a permit.
Easy Park lots (look for an orange circle with a big "P") rank as the most affordable of the parkades, but generally the cost of parking will not vary greatly among parkades within a certain area. Most will accept payment by credit card, as well as coins. Beware of scammers hanging around in some parkades, trying to sell parking tickets for less than their face value — typically, they have purchased the tickets with stolen credit cards. Also be careful parking overnight, as vehicle break-ins are not uncommon.
City meters and parking regulations are enforced regularly. Meter-related offenses will result in fines. Violations in private lots are generally unenforceable, but may result in your car being towed. If your vehicle is towed on a city street, you can recover it at the city impound lot at 425 Industrial Ave.
Yellow Cab +1 604 681-1111 Richmond Cab +1 604 272-1111 Maclures Cabs +1 604 831-1111
The city of Vancouver is a very bicycle-friendly city. In addition to the extremely popular seawall bicycle routes along Stanley Park, False Creek and Kitsilano, there are a whole network of bicycle routes that connect the whole city. The City of Vancouver provides a map of the bicycle routes that is available at most bike shops or online. Also, all buses have bicycle racks on the front to help riders get to less accessible parts. North American visitors will find that drivers in Vancouver are more accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists than many places.
Bicycles are available to rent by the hour, day or week. Many places also rent tandem bikes. Some bicycle rental locations:
- Bazooka Bikes , 1531 Robson St.
- ezeeRIDERS, 1823 Robson St.
- Stanley Park Cycle, 768 Denman St.
- Bayshore Bike Rentals, 745 Denman St.
- Spokes Bicycle Rentals, 1789 W Georgia St.
- Reckless Bike Stores, 1810 Fir Street at 2nd Ave & 110 Davie St at Pacific.
- JV Bike, 955 Expo Boulevard, also rents electric assist bicycles to make the hills a little easier.
Alternatively, buy a used bicycle and either sell it on or donate it to someone in more need of it at the end of your stay.
Hosted Bicycle Tours are available from a number of suppliers. These tours are educational and cover many of the interesting areas and attractions of Vancouver.
- Cycle Vancouver, . Several guided cycling tours, group or private. Offers tour routes and online booking.